Gritter drivers could go on strike if on-call pay conditions do not improve
PUBLISHED: 16:48 24 September 2019 | UPDATED: 08:55 25 September 2019
A bitter row over pay conditions could result in scores of gritter drivers going on strike - just as the cold winter looms.
Over the winter months, Norfolk County Council's highways maintenance workers double up as gritter drivers, venturing out in treacherous conditions to make sure the roads are safe for the rest of us.
The demands of the job require workers to be permanently on call and at the ready to head out into the cold at little to no notice should duty call.
However, union representatives for the workers say they are not being fairly compensated for making the commitment - and have entered negotiations with County Hall over to rectify the situation.
And they have warned that should an amicable agreement not be reached, the workers may be forced to take industrial action.
Jonathan Dunning, branch secretary of Unison Norfolk County, said: "Our main concern is that payment for being on call is not very generous and that our members can not make any long term plans from October through the winter months as they could be called out.
"This has a significant impact on their lives and this view represents quite a few of our members."
Mr Dunning said around 70 members of the council's highways team were unionised, represented either by Unison itself or another organisation.
He added: "We are currently locked in talks with the county council, many of which have been positive,
"However, in the event of us not being able to reach an acceptable resolution we will need to consider our options, one of which could be striking."
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A highways maintenance worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said: "We are getting fed up with being on call and doing a skilled and dangerous job for less and less money every year."
The discussions come as the county council prepares to transfer management of road maintenance to Norse, which comes into effect on October 1.
A County Hall spokesman said: "We have been in discussions with road workers and their union representatives in preparation for the transfer of this service. The road workers have sought a review of their current contractual payments for winter maintenance.
"Given the timing of the transfer, Norse will take over any further discussions after this date."
The Beast from the East
The county's road workers were instrumental during the notorious Beast from the East, which hit Norfolk in the winter of 2018.
The heavy snowfall that came with the near unprecedented cold snap saw the county's gritters travel almost 10 times the distance around the Earth's equator.
Between November 11, 2017, and March 29, 2018 - the period which included the Beast from the East - gritters made 113 runs, covering around 2,200 miles of road each time they went out.
The total distance travelled in this period totted up to 248,600 miles - a greater distance than the 238,900 miles which separates the Earth from its moon.
The harsh conditions during this period also peppered the roads with more than 2,300 pot holes, another of the tasks that falls with the highways maintenance team.
While the winter of 2018/19 did not bring the same conditions, forecasts suggest this winter could see a repeat of 2017/18.